Now Groupola are caught astroturfing Facebook
Plenty of companies use Facebook as part of their marketing mix; social media is a powerful marketing tool because of peer recommendation - we're far more likely to consider a product if a friend or colleague provides a positive review. It's natural to trust people we know, rather than businesses we don't.
How do companies exploit that trust? Many offer consumers free samples or trial periods, and let them decide whether it's worth telling others about. Others rely on stunts and promotions to generate word-of-mouth.
Then there are those who pay people to astroturf - to say the right thing, to push marketing messages to everyone and to post fake reviews.
In July, we called out Groupola for their infamous iPhone 4 promotion. Not only did the site crash when customers attempted to buy one of 200 iPhones for £99, but only four people claimed to have successfully bought one. Staff at parent company Markco Media then appeared on Facebook pretending to be customers, and the company's PR machine tried desperately to drag Groupola's profile back into the spotlight.
And then there were the reviews. Groupola has roughly a dozen reviews on its Facebook page that are in-depth, praise the company to the hilt, and all use similar wording. In fact they're still visible on Facebook:
We thought it a little odd that a dozen individuals would spontaneously review Groupola at the same time and say the same thing, but without proof of shenanigans, there wasn't much else to say.
That was until this week, when Bitterwallet heard from one of those people paid to have good things to say about Groupola, who we'll call Tom. Tom had previously done similar work for a youth marketing agency in Leeds called Dubit, which was in charge of spearheading a marketing campaign for Groupola.
Here's some of the detail from Dubit's brief:
Your key aim is to get people engaging with, and using, Groupola. We need to see a definitive increase in users on the website and fans on Facebook.
Throughout the two week campaign you’ll be seeding Groupola online using, Facebook updates, instant messenger conversations, wall posts, tweets, foursquare, message board posts, mass emails, student forums and anything else that you think will engage your mates.
Whenever Groupola post a status update or new photo we need you to comment and/or like. Equally on Twitter, if Groupola update you’ll need to re-tweet.
You still need to be checking for new offers on Groupola every day, whenever a new offer appears you need to share it to your Facebook and Twitter accounts.
• x7 Facebook Public Social Networking Wall Posts
• x3 Instant Messenger Conversations
• Share latest offers on Facebook and Twitter (at least once every three days)
• Comment/Like/Re-tweet Groupola updates on Facebook and Twitter
• Review an offer on the Facebook page
• Message at least 100 friends on Facebook
• Adhoc (Foursquare, mass emails to student body, student radio shout-outs etc)
For their trouble, Tom received £20 of credit in a Groupola account and £40 per week - but only if he provided screenshots as proof of all his targets being met. The brief also states that those considered the best performers across the campaign received more credit, more cash and Capital Bonds.
From the emails Tom forwarded on to us, it seems the activity wasn't nearly as successful as it needed to be, with Dubit constantly pushing him to plug Groupola in any way possible. And when a bigger incentive was required:
We are just missing the targets we have set ourselves at present so could you please continue to push the Facebook page to mates today and this evening please... If everyone secured at least 5 friends today/ tonight we’d hit the target so we’re so close!
Theres a couple of things you can discuss...
2) Groupola have secured a limited number of iPhone 4’s which will be sold for an amazing £99 through Groupola on the 2nd July- to be in for a chance of getting your hands on one you need to be signed up for the daily alerts!
It turns out that not only did Groupola provide the carrot, but paid for the stick as well. Of course, we only know of one person being involved, although the brief from Dubit refers to a larger group of Facebook users being involvement. Any way you cut it, this type of activity is astroturfing - it's hardly the first example of it, but it's never a good look for any company involved.